The words startled me, “Oh! Oh, no!” my mother-in-law exclaimed. Immediately I thought, “What did we forget? Did I forget something? Did Mom leave her purse behind in the doctor’s office?” All of this happened suddenly as I was driving down Seattle’s Madison Avenue away from Swedish Orthopedic Clinic and toward the I-5 freeway, the freeway that parses Seattle in two. “What” was the, oh no for? It seems that Mom had forgotten to ask her doctor when she could drive again. Why is this such a big deal and why is it a big deal and an ethical question? Patrick Nullens and Ronald Michener’s book, The Matrix of Christian Ethics: Integrating Philosophy and Moral Theology draws together the element of Christian Ethics into our orientation in life as well as guiding us to understand how our lived out values effect and influence our life choices. “In this book we desire to go behind the actual choices themselves and examine the latent values, thoughts, and outlooks on life that precede specific choices made when people are faced with ethical dilemmas.”
Three months ago my 83 year-old mother-in-law stumbled walking up the concrete steps leading to the backdoor of her eighty plus year old home. She cracked her tibia bone. After all these weeks she has progressed from wheelchair bound (no weight on her injured right leg) to a walker and now beginning to walk with the support of a cane. Yet the most pressing question in her return to independent living and freedom is when will she be able to drive again. I get it. I have already told my adult children that I hope to be graceful when it is time to stop driving, but the factors that contribute to such a decision may mean that I will not be so easily persuaded. For many of us this might not be a ethical question, you get hurt, you get better and you resume “normal” life. But for someone who is older in life there are other factors that come into play. I am grateful for the practical phases addressed in this book: Collect Relevant Information; Formulate the Particular Ethical Problem(s); Consider the Problem in View of the Matrix of Commandments, Values, Character, and Consequences; Consider Alternative Solutions; Make a Decision; and finally Evaluate. Nullens and Michener have provided a framework to look at this potential ethical dilemma from a variety of angles, yet all the while driving home the centrality of reflection. “Christian ethics … is careful, hard thinking about what it means to be a follower of Jesus in daily decision, with ultimate respect for God and others.”
A life shaped by this intention would lead us to approach such challenging decisions with more than ourselves in mind. In fact it might permit us to expose what it is that we fear or the questions about how we will get along or even recognize that “embrace” is a word that concerns changes when our end of life is much closer than we’d like to accept.
Writing about driving and age are pretty safe places, depending upon your vantage point. I was not necessarily reading looking for an answer to the ethical dilemma of driving. Although I am grateful to have the door opened. No, I was reading because last Saturday my husband and I attended the wedding of our friends, David and Corrigan. I am grateful to celebrate who they are and their commitment to one another. My presence there reflects my own journey; one I recognize has been driven by ethical searching. “Philosophical analysis may help us understand how people support their moral pronouncements. Moral philosophy is therefore a training ground for ethical argumentation, helping us evaluate the various opinions we encounter.”
I know that to express my support for gays within the Christian community and to subsequently support gay marriage is controversial. I know and respect that my dear colleagues may have other opinions. The turning point came ever so slowly. Initially I was fearful and afraid (grippingly so) when I learned twenty some years ago that a Christian friend was gay. I did not think that you could put one with the other. Then in the following years I saw other friends trying to live out a Christian life as a gay man or woman. I also saw others walk away from a Christian faith because they saw no way to be both. I have often wondered why I was not disturbed. The reality is that until very recently there has not been a healthy platform to discern together (and perhaps the healthy aspect still needs to be created). Camps are fixed on the right and on the left. Where is the bridge?
The path we are called to follow puts no distinction between our call to love God and to love our neighbor. One is an expression of the other. When I love my neighbor, whoever and wherever that might be – across the street, in a soup kitchen or a township in Cape Town I am seeing an individual without labels or definitions. I begin my wrestling in that place. It is contextual and it is cultural. It is definitely biblical. We are called in Christian Ethics “to move beyond rigid legalism to a morality of the heart that includes feelings of compassion. In this the Christian reflects the gracious character of God.”
But it was not the waters of moral theology, moral authority or even theocentracism that got me from one side to the other (or maybe I am still in my boat heading toward the rapids!). The tipping point came for me several years ago when I was living in Australia. On our way to a retreat center I listened as a new friend, a deacon in the church we attended, explain the care system he was leading for a woman with emotional and health needs. I had never heard anyone take such an intentional approach for one single person in a church. I began to learn the story of his faith and commitment to Christ. And then I learned he was gay. Yes, I had previously read Andrew Marin’s book, Love is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community. But my friend showed me what it is to understand his identity in Christ as a gay man. I shifted, not because I was letting go of a biblical perspective, but because I saw a biblical perspective being lived out.
Since then I have been privileged to witness the sincerity of other men and women who are seeking to live out their identity and calling. Do I fully understand their path? No, I honestly do not, not fully. “Faith marks the beginning of our Christian life, and love binds it together with the virtues in ‘perfect unity’ (Colossians 3:14). I am challenged by their faith and life.
Nullens and Michener have provided new angles and challenges to faithfully live out my calling as a follower of Christ. I have been enriched from our reading this week and I expect to be so in the future even when there are no easy answers.
 Ibid., 20.
 Ibid., 151.
 Which in many other churches would have been understood as an elder in role and function.
 Nullens and Michener, 224.